Kelley Parris, executive director of the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, has spent much of her adult life working to prevent child abuse and neglect and domestic violence, helping individuals diagnosed with a mental illness and the incarcerated and working with at-risk youth. Helping others and developing systems of care that meet the tailored needs and culture of the consumer base is her passion.
There is no discounting what you can learn in the most unique settings. While working with individuals diagnosed with a mental illness, Parris was amazed at what she learned on a daily basis. “The honesty in which an individual with developmental delays can simplify an obvious problem or issue that we all too often struggle with never ceases to amaze me. We on the other hand search for ways to be politically correct or maintain a professional demeanor and it always makes me reflect, smile and laugh aloud at our educated ineptness.”
Her son is a doctor in Alabama and has recently expanded his family. Liv-Maxine, (named after Parris’ mother) was born in October. “I am amazed at the role he immediately and effortlessly assumed as a father. He makes me so proud. Being from a divorced family is so stressful on children and it is all the more gratifying to know he has embraced this partnership with co-equal responsibilities, sacrifice and commitment.”
What do you think is the secret to your family’s success?
I grew up with a father that believed a girl should be just as good at everything as her male counterparts so I was expected to hunt, fish and target shoot with the best of them. My father would always tell me, “Your skills need to be equal or better in order to survive in a man’s world.” It was that sense of you can do anything! My dad cooked and my mother was nontraditional, but there was communication.
Fast forward to today, where family is defined much differently. Whereas two parents with extended family and cousins operating as best friends, was once the model for the optimum family. Today, family may be defined as a single mom/dad with a support system of friends that are very close and committed to providing that nurturing environment every child needs. Whatever works to provide a safe, healthy, nurturing, educational environment for our children is now defined as family. We are a child’s first teacher and they are our first real students. They see how we handle love, negotiate differences, treat others and, most of all, treat each other. The greatest advice my mother gave me was, “Watch how a person treats those individuals providing a service to them; that is the way they will ultimately treat you.” Therefore, I always watch how the waitress, waiter, bellman, are treated. It is very telling if you really want to know the worth of a person.
What is your biggest fear?
That I will die last.
What advice would you give to other women?
Make your children strong, follow your faith and have faith in yourself. Always take up for your children because you cannot count on anyone else to do the job! Make sure you are honest (as appropriate) with your children. Do not confess your sins to your children! Know you are the first teacher and they will love you forever.
What is your proudest moment?
Every milestone my child has crossed has been my proudest moment. Graduation from high school, college, medical school, husband, father — it keeps going. I adore him.
What is your biggest achievement?
What makes you happy?
Children, my faith, my friends, animals, the elderly, art, nature, the vast abyss of west Texas…
How do you relax and take time for yourself?
I transport rescue animals (dogs, cats, pigs). It is pretty neat to volunteer with a doggie underground to reach a foster home, forever home or no-kill shelter. I also paint, but I am not very good.
What kind of message would you like to give women in the area or in this community?
You can make a difference. Find your niche to change your world, not the universe, but your world. The child next door may need support. The shelter down the street may need someone to sort donations. You may not have time but you have money to donate. Everyone has a role to play in making their world a better place.
What else would you like to share with our readers? About being a mom, about your work?
On a voluntary basis, I have been working with women in prison who are survivors of severe domestic violence. These women never give up on being a mother and they never stop loving their children. All children are born innocent, and we are the ones that should shape their lives. We are the teachers. We are the primary influence on a child’s most basic characteristics — honesty, integrity, the skills necessary to be productive, contributing citizens in our world and, most of all, to be good and nurturing parents.
Unfortunately, there are many children who are not afforded responsible parents so there are programs in place that the Children’s Board funds that provide services and support to those children and families. We know the first and formative years shape a child’s world forever. We know that adverse exposure to violence, drugs and unhealthy neighborhoods contributes to the overall health and well-being of our children. One of the major reasons for my relocation to Hillsborough County and The Children’s Board was the tremendous support from the community and child advocates. We are making a difference everyday in the lives of Hillsborough’s children and families and building healthy communities together.
My child saved my life when he was 5 years old. Children are our future and our salvation. Save one, that’s my motto.
How do you enjoy or draw information from the magazine?
It is informative and supportive for the parents in the Tampa Bay area. If I had children right now (considering a recent move to the area) Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine would be the go to place for information to entertain, learn, and provide safe environments for my children.
What is your favorite thing to do with your kids in Tampa Bay?
My child is grown, but if he were small, I imagine we would frequent Glazer Children’s Museum, learn Spanish as a second language, fish, and volunteer at Metropolitan Ministries.
Who is your biggest inspiration or role model?
My grandmother Sara. She was a graduate of Montevallo University (college at that time) and had the most direct, loving, down to earth, honest and humbling advice and love anyone could ask to receive. My father was an inspiration. My mother was a grand mystery. My father represented hard work, my mother grand aspirations.